The Kingdom of Nerdalot

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 in Tokyo, Travel Volunteer Journey | 2 Comments
The Kingdom of Nerdalot

All of Australia, Denmark, Norway and handful of Pacific islands, that’s how many people are in Tokyo. Or Canada – every man, woman and child that lives in the wide vastness of Canada, all swallowed up by a single, ravenous city.

If the last few weeks have taught us little else, it’s that Japan is much more than Tokyo; just as Britain is much more than London. But even knowing that, we’ve long been excited about visiting the biggest city the world has ever seen.

Our schedule only allows us three days, but we decided to start in what many people – us included – imagine as the very epitome of Tokyo, Akihabara. Immediately following the Second World War, this place flourished as American troops and locals flooded the area with blackmarket goods, everyone looking to make a quick buck as the country was reborn. From there it became more legitimate as Japan grew, eventually becoming a home for the latest technology. The first Walkmans and games consoles were bought right here – at times it must have felt like the world’s future was being born in the street. It was the perfect sort of place for imaginations to thrive, where anything real or otherwise would have seemed possible.

Natural, then, that this would become the home of the otaku (or nerd). For them Akihabara was where anyone, no matter how socially inept, could be accepted, thrive even. Today this means that Akihabara is a kind of Mecca for dweebs, the neighbourhood where you won’t be judged if you fancy a stroll dressed as your favourite comic book character.

It’s also the place that spawned maid cafés, the ultimate Manga fantasy for men with big imaginations and little experience of girlfriends. We decided to check one out for lunch and were ushered in by a grinning young woman in a skimpy French maid’s outfit. The moment the lift doors opened there was a chorus of screeches and squeals, but like any good ruse, anything more than that would have cost money. A cartoon-like waitress tottered over with a menu, but it felt more like we were in an amphetamine-fuelled anime brothel than a restaurant. We looked at what was on offer – the garish décor and the all-male clientèle – and decided to go somewhere else, the reek of smoke and lechery hanging heavy in the air as we squeezed back into the elevator.

 

The girls-in-uniform theme is unavoidable around Akiba (its modern nickname). For a lot of people it’s harmless fun – a bit like the Carry On films that we used to enjoy so much at home. But in those films everyone was laughing at everyone else, men got as much screen time as women and the star of the show was gay.

Akiba’s style of titillation seems to focus a little too much on young girls school outfits for our comfort level – especially as many of them are simultaneously depicted as being endowed like Pamela Anderson in her pomp.

Still, overall it’s an exciting place to be, especially for nerds like us. Virtual girlfriends aside, the place is loaded with gadgetry, film memorabilia and a colossal amount of video games. We drank it all in with geeky glee.

I was also able to fulfil a long-held ambition to play computer games in a Tokyo arcade. It was hot and it was loud and the kids inside were exceptionally talented – just as I’d always imagined. I’ve devoted weeks of my life to gaming – months, in fact. If you totalled every minute on every console and machine, would it stretch to a year of doing literally nothing else? Hell, I think that I’d have covered that at university alone.

Of course it’s different these days. Year after year I spend less and less time gaming. Unfortunately, today the lack of practise really showed. Half a lifetime ago, I could complete the classic Japanese fighting game Tekken on a single credit, leaving a small crowd of fellow button-bashers awed by my prowess. Today I muddled through four rounds, drunk on nostalgia, before one of the aforementioned nerdlings interrupted my game with a challenge.

Except it wasn’t so much a challenge as it was a merciless brutalising. I lost two rounds to zero and left quickly thereafter.

In a separate arcade, hidden behind all the latest 3D wonders, I found Street Fighter II, perhaps the most popular fighting game of all time. Again, happy memories flooded back until I started to actually play. I narrowly scraped through the first fight before being unceremoniously trashed in the second – by the computer.

So I achieved my dream, but at what cost? My childhood, that’s what. In place of being exceptional at those few things (the games) I have now become average at a great number of others. This, I suppose is what growing up is all about: the rounding of a person into a competent, unexceptional whole.

So goodbye childhood – farewell, old times. Farewell forever!

But hello Tokyo, you big, strange flower of the east.

 

オーストラリア、デンマーク、ノルウェイと太平洋の島々の全ての人口を合わせて、やっとこの東京の人口と同じになる。もしくはカナダ。あの広大な国に住む老若男女の数と、この小さな一つの“都市”に住む人口が同じなのだ。

イギリスがロンドンばかりではないように、日本も東京が全てではない事は十分に理解している。だがそれでも世界最大の都市の一つ、東京を訪れる事は楽しみの一つであった。

東京での滞在は3日間。その最初に訪れる場所として、誰もが思い描く東京を感じられる“秋葉原”を選んだ。秋葉原は第二次世界大戦直後、ヤミ市が多くあった場所として知られており、戦後の成長期の中で財をなそうとする人でにぎわっていた。そのうち電子部品や家電を扱う商店が増え、今のような『電気街』としての顔を持つようになった。
未来が生まれる場所、そんな雰囲気の街にいると、思い描いた事全てが可能なのではないかとさえ思ってしまう。

そして今ここはいわゆる“おたくの聖地”となっている。一般的観点から、“他と違う”事が受け入れられるここ秋葉原は、おたくと呼ばれる彼らにとっていわゆるメッカのような場所で、好きなアニメのキャラクターの格好をしていても白い目で見られるようなことは決してない。

そしてここ秋葉原は“メイドカフェ”発祥の地でもある。メイドカフェは漫画の中にある“夢”の世界を現実化したようなものだ。せっかくなのでそのメイドカフェの一つでランチを取ることにした私達は、メイドの格好をしてほほ笑む若い女の子に迎え入れられて、お店の中に入ってみた。エレベーターの扉が開くと様々な音が耳に入り、そして漫画のキャラクターのようなウェイトレスにメニューを渡された。だがそこはレストランというよりは悪趣味なインテリアに囲まれた、煙草の煙と強い欲望の渦巻く場所で、結局別の場所に移る事にした。

女の子が制服を着るというテーマの場所はアキバ中にある(アキバとは秋葉原の最近の呼び方らしい)それは多くの人にとって楽しみであり、私達が小さい頃に見ていたキャリー・オンという映画に似ている。ただその映画では全ての人、男性も女性も同じように注目されていたが、ここアキバでは若い女の子の制服姿に過剰な注目が集まっているように思う。
もちろん、とは言えアキバは本当に刺激的な街で、私達のような“おたく”にはたまらない場所でもある。アキバには“バーチャル・ガールフレンド”だけでなく、たくさんの映画関連商品や莫大な数のゲームなど、私達が興味をひかれるものが山ほどあるのだ。

そして昔からの夢だった東京のゲームセンターでコンピューターゲームをする事ができた!そこは想像していた通り、興奮と騒音につつまれた場所で、“ゲームの達人”のような子供達であふれている場所だった。ゲーム大好き人間の私はここで一週間でも一ヶ月でも過ごす事ができるような気がしていた。そしてもしここにある全てのゲームを一つずつ制覇して行こうとすると1年かかってもできないだろう。

最近はもちろんゆっくりゲームをするような時間はなくなってしまったので、その“練習不足”はてきめんに結果に表れてしまった。十数年前なら、日本の有名な格闘ゲーム“鉄拳”で一ケタの数字を出し、取り囲む見物客を感動させるほどの事は“朝飯前”だったにも関わらず、今は何度やっても結果は出せず、若い“おたく”に挑戦を挑まれたのだが、結果は散々・・・。2回やって勝てなかった時点でその場を後にすることにした。

別のゲームセンターでは、日本で最も有名なゲームと言っても過言ではない“ストリート・ファイター2”の3Dバージョンを見つけた。昔懐かしい楽しい思い出を胸に早速挑戦したのだが、やっぱり玉砕だった・・・。

子供の頃の夢は果たせたが、大人になった事を痛感したひと時だった。
子供の頃に得意だったゲームにはすっかり弱くなってしまったが、その代わり別の能力が人並みになったという事だと思う。まさに成長するとはこういう事なのだ。

子供のころの思い出には今日で別れを告げる事にしよう・・・。
だがこの巨大でおもしろい東洋の華、東京とのつきいあいはこれからだ!

2 Comments

  1. Kat
    October 10, 2011

    Akihabara is definitely on my “must see” places when I go to Japan. It’s also where I know I’ll end up spending all my pocket money for the number of things I want to buy haha.

    The fandom devoted to school girls and maids is massive. I can’t even begin to explain it.

  2. I Nengah Sugita
    October 13, 2011

    Akihabara is the electronic heaven for me, I remember bought RAM chip for my laptop several years ago I spent a lot of time there. Enjoy your time there!